BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE:
Studies on infants and children born preterm have shown that adequate gestational length is critical for brain white matter development. Less is known regarding how variations in gestational age at birth in term infants and children affect white matter development, which was evaluated in this study.
MATERIALS AND METHODS:
Using DTI tract-based spatial statistics methods, we evaluated white matter microstructures in 2 groups of term-born (≥37 weeks of gestation) healthy subjects: 2-week-old infants (n = 44) and 8-year-old children (n = 63). DTI parameters including fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity were calculated by voxelwise and ROI methods and were correlated with gestational age at birth, with potential confounding factors such as postnatal age and sex controlled.
Fractional anisotropy values, which are markers for white matter microstructural integrity, positively correlated (P < .05, corrected) with gestational age at birth in most major white matter tracts/regions for the term infants. Mean diffusivity values, which are measures of water diffusivities in the brain, and axial and radial diffusivity values, which are markers for axonal growth and myelination, respectively, negatively correlated (P < .05, corrected) with gestational age at birth in all major white matter tracts/regions excluding the body and splenium of the corpus callosum for the term infants. No significant correlations with gestational age were observed for any tracts/regions for the term-born 8-year-old children.
Our results indicate that longer gestation during the normal term period is associated with significantly greater infant white matter development (as reflected by higher fractional anisotropy and lower mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity values); however, similar associations were not observable in later childhood.
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